What ever happened to Hagoth?

IMG_2203Last week I took a  group of teacher education students to one of our local marae.  Marae are uniquely Māori places which usually consist of a meeting house featuring ornate curve linear carvings that  tell stories of ancestors and their alliances.  Many marae  have  painted kowhaiwhai and weaved tukutuku (Google it) and are aesthetically unique and beautiful.  They are sacred venues involving a complex ritual of welcome and belonging.  This makes it  an ideal site to unsettle the ground of many non-Māori New Zealanders,  and have them confront some of the taken for granted assumptions about Otherness that is the terrain of being a  mostly white 7th generation settler class, who are largely oblivious to New Zealand’s indigenous and settler encounter history.

On this marae visit I shared with them a quote by Victor, a black man speaking to Dave, a white man,  in the documentary film by Lee Mun Wah, The Color of Fear (1992) who said:

‘Don’t expect me to trust you unless you are willing to be as changed and affected by my experience as I am daily by yours..’

The privilege of  being a racial, ethnic or cultural group at the political, economic, linguistic and social centre of society is that you can enjoy the illusion that what you are doing is ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, and you can choose or not  choose to be conscious of how you are seen or how you affect those at the social, political, cultural periphery.  I suggested that those at the periphery, including racial and ethnic minorities,  don’t have that privilege.   Rather, the periphery needs to deal with what WEB duBois argues, is a double consciousness.  As a black man he bore the weight of knowing who he was but was also burdened by the weight of consciousness as to how he was seen by white folk.   And that is at the heart of racial politics in the West.  As indigenous or ethnic minorities we have to know  how we are seen by the  dominant majority because it helps us to anticipate problems, it keeps us safe,  and in this day and age it keeps us off potential terrorist lists!

I asked my mostly wonderful and eager mostly Pakeha and mostly middle class students if they would like to know how those at the periphery saw those at the centre.  In the New Zealand context this was asking them if they would like to get feedback as to how they are ‘seen’ and experienced  by indigenous and ethnic minorities.

We at the periphery are used to being seen, evaluated and assessed, and so I  asked them if they would mind swapping places for a time.  Aside from a bit of resistance from one student who wept as she attempted to give me her CV of cultural competence and argued that it wasn’t necessary, most of the students were up to it and somewhat excited by the prospect.

So the students divided themselves into groups, of ethnic/newcomer minorities, national/indigenous minorities, and
dominant majorities.  The dominant majority was to answer the question:  ‘How do I think I am seen by those at the periphery?’  The other two groups answered the question: ‘How do you see and experience the dominant majority?’

As the small group of Māori and other ethnic minorities got together to respond to the question here are some of the things they came up with:

  1. I always have to be careful about what I say to them because they have a ready arsenal of discourse to launch at me in order to keep me in my place.
  2. The dominant majority are oblivious.
  3. The dominant majority seem to feel entitled.
  4. The dominant majority  have ensured that I’m not in control of my own identity.

The groups who were responding to the question,  ‘How do you think you are seen by those at the periphery?’  were well off the mark.  They responded with things like:

 ‘They think we are rich, cliquey, individualistic, promiscuous, secular, capitalistic, conservative, racist etc.”

The difference in the answers was a point for further discussion.  What appeared to be happening was that the dominant majority was suggesting that what they found to be the most socially reprehensible characteristics within their own group, was naturally how they would be evaluated by those on the outside.

Every social group manufactures its own rules and consents and characteristically there will be social trends across time that tests these boundaries. But that was wholly missing the point.    The fact of their intransigence and obliviousness at the centre was experienced as the most deeply problematic for those at the periphery, not errant social behaviours or lapses in personal standards.  Every social group has their intragroup issues and  it seems a natural consequence of the human condition, regardless of your social group.

At the heart of what we were talking about however was the need for the centre to become conscious of themselves as a force  that is not ‘normal’, ‘cultureless’, and ‘natural’, and that there is a necessity to apprehend and be aware of the centre’s effect on the periphery in what might seem the most innocuous and innocent of contexts.

It is with this in mind that  I wish to talk about Hagoth.

The Mormon’s weren’t the first people to  come up with this idea of a semitic origin for Māori.  Samuel Marsden, the first CMS missionary to New Zealand was touting it back in 1814.  This idea of being ancestrally related to an oppressed class of Israelites roaming landless in the wilderness was a compelling one,  particularly when settlers began appropriating Māori land through legislative violation in the 19th century.  Māori adaptations of the Christian/biblical tradition were extraordinary and are worth studying in their own right.  But the Mormons bought their own brand of relevance to their 19th century Christian preachings.  Not to be outdone by the Anglicans, Methodists,  Ratana  and Ringatu,  the missionaries adapted the story of the Book of Mormon to give  it some compelling local relevance.  In doing so they hit on the story of Hagoth.  A 55BC ship builder who sailed off the coast of America never to be heard of again.

We can probably thank the inimitable Matthew Cowley for the myth of Hagoth.   He was known for his theological creativity.  He had all kinds of transcendent experiences with Māori and for Māori which floated back to America, and before you know it a slew of General Authorities where coming to the Pacific Islands and saying such things as:

We humbly thank Thee that this building is erected in this land, so that those faithful Maoris who came here in early days, descendants of Father Lehi, may be remembered by their descendants.  (Hugh B Brown, closing prayer at they laying of the cornerstone of the New Zealand Temple.)

At the dedication of the New Zealand Temple on April 20, 1958 Gordon Hinckley stated:

“Here are two great strains of the house of Israel and the children of Ephraim from the isles of Britain, and the children of Lehi from the isles of the Pacific.”

Speaking in Samoa in 1976 Spencer Kimball stated:

“And so it seems to me rather clear that your ancestors moved northward and crossed a part of the South Pacific. You did not bring your records with you, but you brought much food and provisions. . . .I would like to say to you brethren and sisters of New Zealand, you are some of Hagoth’s people, and there is No Perhaps about it!’ “

So I grew up feeling somewhat proud of Native American connections and studied Thor Heyerdahl  and those of his ilk religiously in my 20’s.  Yet this active pursuit of an understanding as to the ancestral origins of Māori has not over the intervening years lead me to Israel or South America at all, rather it has lead me to the Lapita culture of the Bismark Archipelago, to Melanesia, a West- East migration from Asia (including Taiwan) to  Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. And an eventual migration from Eastern Polynesia where the roots of the typically Māori material and linguistic culture began to take hold.

So this puts me in an interesting position.  None of these stories of Hagoth have been officially repudiated.  In the LDS News it was stated that these stories of Hagoth are not official statements of doctrine, and I suppose that’s an out (albeit a bit of a Johnny-come-lately one).  So, on the one hand there is this lingering story of Maori semitic origins the likes of which Herewini Jones touts,  and on the other hand there is some strong and compelling evidence which suggests there to be a flowering of a unique Polynesian linguistic and material culture and tradition from traces around the North and Eastern Pacific rim.


I’m certainly not insisting that a nice chap called Hagoth didn’t jump into a boat and run into an atoll and have his way with some lovely wahine.  I’m simply saying that once again the centre has sought to appropriate the cultural histories and ancestries of the periphery in order to harness our loyalty and to colonise our identity.  Most evidence suggests that if there was a Jew floating in the Pacific sharing his love about then his genetic legacy is not that pronounced and that Hawaiki is probably not Jerusalem.

As a Māori woman I’m called upon to carefully navigate the terrain of  my religion,  my  intellectual pursuits, and my cultural identity and none of them are a neat fit.  As I resist the popular representations of my religious tradition I risk rendering myself a ‘spiritual’ outsider by neglecting  or even challenging what has become a sacred and beloved account of my origins.  The hardest part of this is that the centre is oblivious to the tensions their historical pronouncements have created.  Nobody can hold them to account for the pronouncements and they simply don’t have a ‘those guys were wrong’ or ‘perhaps they spoke hastily’ in their religious vernacular.

The Hagoth myth is as intransigent as the Great Fleet myth and the Moriori myth.  All of which have been largely discredited or bear some very prominent question marks over them. However, all of  them have held because they serve some function in either the cultural politics of New Zealand or the religious politics of  the Church in New Zealand.

While we have a cultural centre in our religious tradition, while we have chains of command, and while we are dominated by a religious oligarchy that disavows the claims of the periphery (including an intellectual tradition)  by the maintenance of an impenetrable discursive fortress, we will always have to battle with our own double consciousness.  Mormonism has a rich and expansive religious tradition to offer, but until our cultural centre is as willing to be changed by the experience of those at the periphery, as we are everyday by those at the centre, both trust and relevance will continue to be tenuous.


And so, I salute Hagoth and his ancient seafaring expertise.  It sounds like those of my ancestors who came from the other direction and made their way into Te Moana Nui a Kiwa!  I wonder if they met up?

  • Steve

    The critical point is that the Maori arrived in New Zealand before 1300 B.C. probably in several waves.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Absolutely! The whole theory of one group coming at once is a bit simplistic and the time frames are a bit up the wop as well (a kiwi colloquialism for wrong).

  • cadams

    There’s no proof Hagoth came or didn’t come, so I think you just leave it alone or accept it on faith. The evidence does suggest there was an east to west movement across the islands; certainly there’s Polynesian animal remains in Chile dated before Columbus. I think it’s presumptuous to be certain about anything with so little proof.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Quite right! But the myth has historically excited the imaginations of many Maori mormon here that it actually can’t be overlooked. We don’t hear much about it from the pulpit these days, but I grew up with it and its still an important story for my father’s generation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/melanierc74 Melanie Riwai-Couch

    It was interesting working with the Moriori people on Rekohu last year about their history and the impact of histories written about them by “others” and the steps towards redress now as they reclaim their identity.

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      He mea whakahirahira tēnā e hoa! Pouri ana te ngakau mo nga kino nunui ki runga i taua iwi! I haere koe ki Rerekohu?

      • http://www.facebook.com/cwhumphreys Charles William Humphreys

        He mea whakahirahira tēnā e hoa! Pouri ana te ngakau mo nga kino nunui ki runga i taua iwi! I haere koe ki Rerekohu? – what does that mean?

        • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

          LOL: It means “That’s awesome my friend! I’m heartsick that those people have had to suffer so much. Did you go to the Chathams?”

  • R

    I think another “big” question remains … “what is history?” [and who has the power to define it?] Here’s a link to a book I’m currently reading. It raises some excellent questions that are very unsettling for my professional historian and history teacher friends to grapple with: http://www.amazon.com/Gurindji-Journey-Japanese-Historian-ebook/dp/B005E8AJRC

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      Yes, absolutely! For us Mormons this myth of Hagoth did become an official historical account in itself and has served a specific function in making relevant an American religion in the South Pacific. Was that necessarily altogether a bad thing? Not in an of itself its the intransigence of the centre to the stories of the periphery which is problematic.

  • http://askmormongirl.wordpress.com askmormongirl

    new to your blog, kiwi. wonderful, wonderful essay. i know Dan has been talking about doing a pasifika culture episode at mormon matters podcast. i’m sending him your site. if you would feel comfortable emailing me your email address, mine is jb@joannabrooks.org.

  • Stace

    I thought id dig around and found the very interesting Mentinah Archives , Ancient Records of the familys of the Nemenhah Indians , which states Hagoth went upinto the Colorado , established Camp and came back to the Nephites ,he then left again etc.But.. where it gets interesting is his son also left with 12 Ammonite Ships(Priestly Familys) and 12 Nephite ships who were lost at sea , and ended up in on a Pacific Island . In which was the beginning of Trade , then the East Pacific Interaction , then the local languages of barter and trade , The counting of Numbers in many Asian Indigenous also interactable with Pacific Number counting, so i think their was a mix , all island groups were sea faring peoples , So trade with America would not surprise me at all , as well as Taiwan and Phillipines etc etc .

    • Stace

      *Please Note* The content about Trade is not in the Mentinah Archives , this is the authors own insight on the DNA matchings debate used to argue that Pacific Islanders came from Asia .

      • Gina Colvin

        What are the Mentinah Archives?

  • Brett Goff

    Kiwi Mormon,
    This story is quite popular with the Hawaiian Saints as well and in fact there is a pageant held in Maui Hawai’i that plays on this story and contemporary connections to missionaries serving in Central and South America.
    Named the Pulehu Pageant there are a few articles available on google about it though not many.
    I had the fun of playing a role in the 2000 production while serving as a missionary and as I recall there is mention of one in Hagoth’s party being Hawaiiloa the father of Hawai’i.
    This aside I was also take for a 180 as my Linguistic course in Hawai’i clearly pointed to Asia through the same channels you mention above. The sweet potato shows some trading though does not cover facts of origins coming through Asia.
    I enjoy the reading your blogs perhaps we’ll cross paths as I plan to embark on a Pacific Studies Masters in Auckland and hope to travel the country both for fun and potential thesis study. If plans go well I will arrive with my family in time for the July semester.

    • Gina Colvin

      Why Auckland Brett!! Come to Christchurch!!

      • Brett Goff


        Why Auckland? Simply, feel prompted to go here and would like to maintain a regular habit of attending the temple.
        That said, I have been looking at campus’ in Christchurch but have little info thus far.
        What would be your reasoning for suggesting Christchurch, other than lecturing there?
        My proposed thesis is “Preserving Pacific Values and Identity” which will be a follow up to my BA in Humanities in Chinese culture and Language. Though I am choosing to look at a masters in Pacific studies out of interest in Isles of the Pacific. BYU-I does not have a pacific studies program BYU-H does.

        Thanks for your Reply

        Brett Goff

        • Gina Colvin

          Actually, you are probably better off at Auckland with a thesis topic such as you have suggested – but it would be interesting to know who is your supervisor and what department you’ll be in. The weather in Auckland is great and the university is very good. Its just very expensive and the traffic is bad. But its a pretty city and yes, you’ll be close to the temple. Let me know how it all goes! Keep in touch once you get here and drop me a line if you are heading down this way.

  • Raymond McIntyre

    While the Hagoth story is one ‘imposed’ from the outside and of perhaps dubious value, would you care to comment on the 19thC CE experience of the Maori as Jews forced into diaspora within their own land?

  • Ana

    GIna – have you ever heard of the Ainu people? They were the indigenous people of Hokkaidou the uppermost island of Japan and are often described as Polynesian in look/culture etc. They were there before the Japanese people and were all but wiped out by them.
    Also Japan has both Taroimo (Taro) and Satsumaimo (Kumara) – although I never saw or had any of their Kumara.

  • Kohu

    Kia ora.I know that the men you named, to be apostles of the Lord. Their utterances under the influence of the Holy Ghost is confirmation to me of my origin. I was converted to this Church after having the same confirmation. This is something all the speculations and theories can’t give you. And is in fact a shortcut to the pure knowledge of who we are and from whence we came.